Monday, January 28, 2008

The Orthodoxy of "Jesus is my boyfriend"

My least favorite epithet in the "worship wars" debate is often spouted by my brothers who are fellow traditionalists. To my dismay, they will mutter that a certain song is "Jesus is my boyfriend music." It may be unintentional, but there is a double implication in this statement. First, the speaker points out the "teenie-bopper" stylistic theme of a song that may mimic popular culture a little too closely. Second, the speaker suggests that the song is sensual in nature and that the ramifications of the lyrics are crypto-homosexual when sung by male Christians. Most of the time, this epithet is spoken by men who are put off by the lovey-dovey song. To many, "Jesus is my boyfriend music" simply means unequivocally inappropriate.

How can I be so sure of this analysis? I get it directly from the horses mouth. The users of this epithet have explained it to me this way when I call them on it. When the answers to my questions for clarification reveal this second implication, their own words reveal the judgemental nature of the phrase. It sounds clever when it is said, but close-minded when explained. This is what makes it an epithet.

I will digress for a moment to point out that some may say that many heterodox congregations and liberal Christians have embraced the phrase. I have seen my share of "Jesus is my boyfriend" T-Shirts. I oppose it as a positive gimmick as fervently as I oppose it as a negative epithet. It is hard for me to say who coined the phrase first for Christian usage for modern Christianity.

...but I know where I first heard it:

Jesus is my boyfriend
Jesus is my boyfriend
You can't have him
Because Jesus is my boyfriend

"The Telephone" by Marylin Manson and The Spooky Kids
1990 Demo CD: The Beaver Meat Cleaver Beat

That's the only part of that song that I can even print here. If you know who Marylin Manson is, you know why I did not post the song in its entirety. With what I have provided you can see the phrase and you get enough of the sense to understand the implied meaning behind it. Phrases have meaning. Most of the time it is not the meaning intended by the speaker but the meaning that is interpreted by the hearer. Hearers interpret meaning though their own personal context. To the world, the phrase is a statement of mocking ridicule directed against Christ and His church. Knowing this early and popular usage, why would any Christian use it?

To get back on point, I would like to approach the source of this epithet among Christian men. I have yet to hear a woman use it in a negative way. This is an important question: Why do Christian men despise music that is delivered in intimate language... what is the problem with the idea of "Jesus is my boyfriend?" They do not just hate the phrase. They dismiss anything that sounds like a romantic love song to Jesus without a care for pesky things discernment or context.

Is it homophobia? Is it a desire to preserve gender roles? Is it centered in the male confusion between romance and intimacy? Is it a flat out rejection of pop music converted with hollowly Christian lyrics?

Perhaps all of these possibilities apply to some. I can see how each would be valid and justified in certain cases. I think that there is a deeper explanation that applies to men in general. The resistance to the idea of "Jesus is my boyfriend" music comes from our confusion over gender roles in this over-stimulated and over-sexed culture of ours. Modern society does not make the clear distinctions that Holy Scripture does:

"Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself." [Eph 5:22-28]

This connection between male and female as it relates to Christ and the Church is subtle, but vitally important. In verse 32 of Ephesians chapter five, Paul calls this connection between Christ and the church a "profound mystery". In this whole passage Christ is masculine as a husband is masculine. The church (even its male members) are feminine as a wife is feminine. Christ, as a Husband, is the Head of the Church. The Church, as a wife, is obedient and purified by her Husband. But there is something much deeper still:

"Then the man said, 'This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man." [Gen 2:23]

Just as Woman was taken out of Man's flesh and given life, so the life of the Church is taken out of Christ's Body in the Sacrament. We intimately abide in Christ when we partake in the Lord's Supper. We are adopted as God's children in the waters of baptism. There is nothing more intimate than mankind's Sacramental connection with God. When it comes to Justification, the Bible speaks of all mankind as feminine: passive and submissive.

This passive obedience and total dependence of a bride with respect to her Husband points directly to the doctrine of Sola Fide. The bride does not purify herself. She does not help the Husband purify her. She is sanctified. She is cleansed. She is purified. She is presented as holy and blameless. The bride is totally submissive. She is the receiver of the action and not the doer of the action. The one who performs all of these wonderous things is the Husband: Christ. Reception is a feminine trait. When it comes to Justification, both genders of humanity are feminine in that they receive Faith as a gift from God. This "Bridegroom and bride" language is echoed elsewhere in Holy Scripture:

"Fear not, for you will not be ashamed; be not confounded, for you will not be disgraced; for you will forget the shame of your youth, and the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more. For your Maker is your husband, the LORD of hosts is his name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called." [Isa 54:4-5]

Read the Parable of the Ten Virgins [Matt 25:1-13].

"Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, 'Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.' And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal." [Rev 21:9-11]

Our Early Church Fathers understood the gravity and depth of this concept with impressive insight. Even our Lutheran Fathers understood it. In all of their writings, you will find a woman, the Blessed Virgin Mary, put forth as the archetype of the Church: pure, chaste, submissive, humble, receptive, and obedient. In this way, as much as I wish not to use the exact syntax of the phrase "Jesus is my boyfriend", the truth as it has always been understood by the Church is both apostolic and orthodox.

Modern views of romantic relationships have contaminated this orthodox understanding and debased it. As gender roles blur and sexual boundaries are crossed, the ancient truths that draw distinctions between men and women are lost. I think that this is why Christian men oppose this kind of language on sexual grounds. They are not brides. They are not wives. They accept the metaphor in a very simplistic and narrow way, but stand against its overuse -- especially in worship. It makes them uncomfortable.

Why? In their hearts, men privately answer, "Well, I am not 'involved' with Jesus that way. Men and women kiss and have sex. Jesus and I are not like that. To imply such is disgusting." Without knowing it, they have adopted Marylin Manson's sinful interpretation. The distinction between male and female breaks down to nothing more than anatomy and carnal lust. For some, their bad example as husbands color their view of this truth. Their private issues with sin git in the way of everything. The arguement boils down to snickers about biology. How seventh grade!

I stand by my credibility as a masculine man. I am a guy's guy. I am driven and disciplined. If anyone should grimace at the idea of being a bride, this Soldier from Texas should be the one. I do not. I am happy to be the bride. I eagerly embrace my submissive, feminine role in my Justification and Sanctification. I understand that relationships are not about sex, they are about intimacy and individual roles... both of which belong in a Christian's relationship with Christ.

With my wife, I am the husband. I am the head of the household. As a wonderful Christian woman, my wife submits to my authority. The gender roles do not end there. With my Savior, I am the wife. I submit to Christ's authority. I am dependent on Him. Such submition requires timidity, humility, and deference. It is impossible to do those things in a masculine way.

Why is this important? I think that far to many male Christians try to deal with Christ "Man to man" instead of "Bridegroom to bride." They take their masculinity to the Cross and want to deal and bargain with God. They do not become totally humble and do not fully submit. They want to be second man instead of obedient bride. They want to negotiate with Christ instead of bow before Him. Men often approach their life in Christ as a partnership instead of a marriage (in which they are the wife). They want to help God out like a buddy instead of obey Him as Mary did. This distinction is important.

...of course this is all just one bride's opinion.

Here's some of that terrible "Jesus is my Boyfriend" music. Do yourself a favor: shut your mouth and open your eyes. Look at how Biblical and beautiful some of this stuff is.

"Love Song" by Third Day
1996 Album: Third Day

I've heard it said that a man would climb a mountain
Just to be with the one he loves
How many times has he broken that promise
It has never been done.
I've never climbed the highest mountain
But I walked the hill of calvary

Just to be with you, I'd do anything
There's no price I would not pay
Just to be with you, I'd give anything
I would give My life away.

I've heard it said that a man would swim the ocean
Just to be with the one he loves
How may times has he broken that promise
It can never be done
I've never swam the deepest ocean
But I walked upon the raging sea

(Repeat Chorus)

I know that you don't understand
The fullness of My love How I died upon the cross for your sins
And I know that you don't realize
How much that I gave you
But I promise, I would do it all again.

Just to be with you, I've done everything
There's no price I did not pay
Just to be with you, I gave everything
Yes, I gave My life away.


William Weedon said...

Lewis said somewhere something along the lines (is that enough qualifiers to maker sure you know I'm relying on my aging memory?):

Over against God we are all female to His masculine.

Cindy said...

Let me be the first woman to tell you that I don’t like “Jesus is my boyfriend” music. You show quite well what’s wrong with the typical objections based on gender roles. But I think the objections based on artistic merit still stand. I read the “Love Song” lyrics. I don’t know how the song sounds with music, but the words do not impress me. I favor the use of more elevated language for such elevated subject matter. Not that everything has to sound Shakespearean, but with the repetition of “just to be with you,” I can’t help being distracted by trying to remember what 70’s or 80’s song those words are from.

I suppose the lyrics are Biblical, or at least not unbiblical, but I can’t see them as beautiful. My problem is that the style (sappy) does not match the substance (Jesus and his love).

Here’s something with a much more respectable style that includes man-as-bridegroom imagery, by the inimitable Paul Gerhardt:

Lord, when your glory I shall see
And taste your kingdom’s pleasure,
Your blood my royal robe shall be,
My joy beyond all measure!
When I appear before your throne,
Your righteousness shall be my crown;
With these I need not hide me.
And there in garments richly wrought
As your own bride I shall be brought
To stand in joy beside you.

(Christian Worship #219)

Mike Baker said...

Thank you for your wonderful post, Cindy.

Cindy has brought out the "big guns" in Paul Gerhardt. In a converstation about musical beauty and intimacy, our beloved Gerhardt is the paragon example. Few musicians from the countless eras and genres could even hope to compare against such a high standard. We are all truly blessed by Gerhardt. I believe his works to be among the most priceless treasures in all of Christendom.

Since my personal taste is in lock-step with Cindy's post, I have no reason to disagree with her. As a traditionalist and a lover of rich hymnody with high language, I find no fault with her point.

With that said, I do not know how to judge something by "artistic merit". What is artistic merit? Who decides what has artistic merit and what does not? One could argue that a simple piece that uses common language is beautiful and full of artistic merit based on its elegent simplicity. One could argue the other way against such a piece. At that point, it all comes down to personal taste. No doubt, there are those who disagree with me and Cindy about Gerhardt's hymns (as crazy as those people are). They are entitled to their personal opinions. There is room for everyone.

Which brings me to my "both/and" opinion regarding music. While I believe that only traditional forms belong in the Divine Service, I am open to the full breadth of Christian artistic expression from a cultural stand point. I see nothing wrong with a large segment of Contemporary Christian Music when it is used as an extra-ecclesiastical augmentation to the solid hymnody of the church. My life is enriched by this contemporary music and I do not believe that it does any harm to listen to more music about Jesus during one's leisure time or on the way to work.

Even if Christian Radio fails to teach me a single drop of Lutheran doctrine (which is an accusation that I strongly disagree with), the fact that it keeps my mind on Christ as I listen is an acheivement that no other radio station can claim. It is an additional resource that augments my study and my love of hymns. It does not detract.

This is the thesis of my point: Promoting hymnody for use in the church is important, but it can be done without attacking other legitimate forms of Christian art. It is possible to promote, participate in, appreaciate, and enjoy other forms of Christian music without betraying our historic liturgy.

There is plenty of room in the life of a modern Christian for both forms of music. It is certainly preferred to the secular alternatives.

We do not increase our brother's love for the liturgy be tearing down his current musical taste or belitteling his current artistic efforts. That is what the phrase "Jesus is my boyfriend" does. If we want to win hearts and minds to the liturgy, we must do that through enclusion and positive exposure.

Cindy said...

In promoting Gerhardt, I’m just taking a cue from Rev. Stuckwisch. I learned about the greatness of Gerhardt from his blog.

On the question of how to judge artistic really have to get yourself over to join the gang at Dr. Veith’s blog. He’s an expert on the arts and aesthetics, and he touches on this topic quite often on his blog. There’s a recent post on "Tastelessness in the Church" with a lot of interesting comments on evaluating art.

I hope I wasn’t too mean in critiquing the song quoted in your post. Perhaps it was not fair of me to judge the song without hearing the music. Lyrics that look sappy to me in writing might sound much less so depending on the accompanying music. And certainly I can’t disagree with your assertion of contemporary Christian music’s right to exist. I rather like your platform of using traditional music in worship and enjoying contemporary music outside of church. We have to be discerning, but there is good theology in a lot of CCM. Chris Rice is one artist that comes to mind. And then there are groups like Koine that play traditional hymns in a contemporary style. I listen to them in my car all the time.

Okay, enough shameless plugs for my personal favorites.